There are just a few big cities in Thailand.
The cities have a mix of modern and very old buildings.
There are many temples in Thailand.
Many people live in the countryside.
There are many farming and fishing villages.
Thailand is a country in South-east Asia, stretching 1640 kilometres north to south. Thailand has borders with Malaysia, Burma, Laos and Cambodia. Two oceans border the southern coastline of Thailand, the Gulf of Thailand in the east and the Andaman Sea in the west. The country was once called Siam.
Facts in Brief
Official name of country: Muang Thai (means 'Land of the Free')
Capital city: Bangkok
Official language: Thai
Type of government: Constitutional monarchy
Head of state: King
Head of government: Prime Minister
Listen to the National Anthem of Thailand:
Population: over 70 million
Main ethnic groups: Karen, Padaung, Hmong, Lahu, Yao, Akha, Lisu.
Main religions: 95 % Buddhism, also Brahminism, Hinduism, Islam,Christianity, Animism
Area: 514, 000 square kilometres
Unit of currency: Baht (B)
Highest mountain: Doi Inthanon, 2595 metres
Longest river: Mekong, which forms Thailand's north-eastern border
Time difference from Australian Eastern Standard Time: Five hours behind
Main agricultural products: Rice, coffee, salt, coconuts, rubber, sugar
Industries: Fishing, paper products, silk and cotton cloth, tourism, food processing, handicrafts, jewellery, and mining of petroleum, coal, tin, sapphires and rubies .
Exports (things sold to other countries) include: computers, office machine parts, transistors, rubber, vehicles (cars and trucks), plastic, and seafood. Imports (buys from other countries) natural gas, machinery and parts, vehicles, electronic integrated circuits, chemicals, crude oil and fuels, and iron and steel.
City Life, Country Life
There are only a few cities in Thailand, and a number of towns. In the three main cities of Thailand - Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pattaya - there are modern and traditional buildings, office blocks and government buildings. There are also schools, health centres and hospitals.
In the cities, people live in houses made of wood, bricks, cement and tiles, and in apartments.There are government apartment buildings for the people who cannot afford their own housing. These are usually two or three-roomed flats with a small kitchen and bathroom. In some of the towns, there are new housing developments. These houses are build using modern materials and are different in style from traditional houses.
Bangkok, the capital city, is the largest and busiest city, with the busy Chao Phraya River flowing through it. There is a great deal of river traffic with all kinds of boats, either private, or public ferries and water taxis travelling along it.
Although it is a modern city with tall buildings and freeways, there are many old style buildings in Bangkok as well.
Traditional Thai houses are built on stilts about 1 to 1.5 metres high. This keeps the house above flood waters, and in ancient times also kept it safe from dangerous animals. However, it also keeps air circulating around the house in the hot climate, and makes a useful storage area or a place where domestic animals can be kept. The houses are built in a variety of woods, often with carved panels. A traditional house is generally a number of separate rooms around a central terrace.
The Royal Palaces and many large, important Buddhist temples are in Bangkok. Because Bangkok is the capital, the Parliament and other government buildings are there.
In towns of central Thailand, including Bangkok, there is a network of canals called klongs stemming out from the river. Any small stream stemming from the river is also called a klong. There is a lot of low cost housing crammed along the sides of the klongs, as well as small houseboats.
The klongs are full of activity: boats and shops selling wares, people washing clothes, children swimming.
People shop in indoor and outdoor markets and in department stores and small shops. Along the streets, vendors display their goods on stalls or spread out on the pavement. There are many street-side food stalls where people buy food to take home or to eat at tables on the street.There are also indoor and outdoor restaurants and fastfood venues selling chicken and hamburger meals.
For entertainment, people visit museums, the cinema and theatre, or the zoo.They also dance at discos and watch and play sports of all types, such as kick-boxing, volleyball and badminton.Television and radio are popular forms of entertainment too.
There are Buddhist temples everywhere in the cities, nestled among the modern buildings. These religious compounds are called wats. They are busy centres for community activity, such a festivals. There are a few mosques and Christian churches.
However, most Thai people live in rural areas. Some farm the land and many live in villages along the rivers. In some fishing villages, bamboo and wooden houses are built on stilts over the water. Some people live in boats.
Many farming families live in traditional two-roomed farmhouses, with walls made of straw, palm leaves or wood. The floors are made of clay, and the roofs are made of tiles, woven palm leaves or straw. In the mountain villages, traditional houses are made of wood and raised on stilts to protect the people from rain and wild animals. Few villages have electricity.
Village families work together to plant and harvest their crops, and to raise their animals.They grow rice, maize, fruit such as bananas, and vegetables such as corn. They keep chickens, pigs and ducks. Village people share tools and equipment. Any extra food produced is sold at a local market, where clothing, cooking oil and utensils can be bought. Handicrafts are also made and sold at the markets. Some of the village men work as builders and carpenters, and others travel to factories nearby or work on plantations which grow rubber, tea or coffee. The village people share religious and cultural celebrations, gathering together for weddings and festivals. There are few cars in the villages, so most people travel by bicycle. Public transport buses link most of the villages to each other and to the towns and cities.The buses are crowded and slow.
Many people have moved from their villages and farms to the cities to find work. Work is to be found in offices, shops, on the public transport systems and in tourist-related positions, such as tour guides, drivers and hotel employees. Many people also work in factories or as street traders and on building sites as construction workers.
All schools are free in Thailand, and children attend from six years of age.
Schools have two shifts - one from 7.30 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. and the other from 1.30 p.m. to 4.00 p.m. Students attend one of these half-day shifts on five or six days of the week, all year round.
Primary school lasts for five years, and secondary school for four years, followed by three years of high school. There is a primary school near most rural villages. Older children from the villages travel by bus to regional secondary schools.
Students wear a school uniform. The discipline in schools is very strict. Most children learn to speak English at school.
Long ago, the only education available in Thailand was for boys, who were taught by the Buddhist monks. There was no formal education for girls in those times.
Some students go on to study at university after completing high school.
The hill tribes, such as the Meo and Karen people, teach their children the traditional language and ways. Usually a village elder teaches the classes.
Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand
Groups of people came to Thailand from nearby Asian countries such as Burma (now called Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos and China, long ago. They migrated to Thailand to escape persecution in their own countries, because they were not allowed to speak their own language and live in their traditional ways. Known as the 'hill tribes', they live in the mountains in north Thailand, each living inancient traditional ways, with their own language, customs, organisation, clothing and culture.
The hill tribe villages generally produce everything they need. They sell traditional handicrafts as well as crops such as coffee, lettuce, fruit and vegetables. Their traditional farming lifestyle was a 'slash and burn' method, which means a cleared area is planted and harvested and then abandoned for several years while the forest regrows. This was affecting the environment so the Thai government has encouraged them to farm in a more settled way.
There are four groups of Karen, who live mainly in Mae Song Son province. Karen houses are not usually large, made of bamboo or teak, built on stilts. Beneath the house is a work area. Two married women cannot live in the same house. The village chief has great power. Many have converted to Christianity. One group of Karen are the Paduang. From early childhood, Paduang women gradually add permanent brass rings around their necks, wrists and legs. As adults, the neck rings cannot be removed - after so many years, the women's necks are stretched and cannot support themselves without rings.
There are two groups of Hmong (say mong), sometimes called Meo: the White and the Blue.Their villages are high in the mountains. Houses have a dirt floor and roof which extends close to the ground. They live in extended families, unlike the Karen, so there are two or more bedrooms and a guest platform in the houses. Their religion is animist, which means they believe there are spirits in everyday objects.They are a fiercely independent people who dislike taking orders, so the village head man has little power. The beautiful Hmong/Meo handicrafts are in high demand.
The Lahu originated in southwest China. There are 4 tribes: Black, Yellow, Red and She-leh. All wear very decorative costumes. Houses are on high stilts with thatched rooves. Many Lahu have converted to Christianity but the Red Lahu build a central animist temple in their villages.
The Lisu are believed to have originated in Eastern Tibet. They wear colourful costumes and live high in the mountains. Houses of bamboo are built on the ground. The Lisu live in extended families, the number of bedrooms depending on the size of the family. There are 12 clans of Lisu, and marriage must be between members of different clans. A bride price is paid. The Lisu believe strongly in the spirit world.
The Akha are the poorest of the hilltribes. They originated in Tibet, and in Thailand live in high altitudes. Their houses are on low stilts and have steep rooves. The villages have ceremonial gates, intricately carved. The carvings must not be touched or shown disrespect. Each village has a giant swing in the centre. In August each year there is a 'Swinging Festival' when the headman and then the rest of the villagers take turns to use the swing. The reasons for this practice are not known. The Akha are very superstitious and their religion prescribes exactly how each action must be performed.
The Yao tribe originated in southern China, and at one time held considerable power in China. They pride themselves on cleanliness and honour. They are the only hilltribe to have a written language. Yao houses are built of wood, with two or more bedrooms and a guest platform. The Yao sell their beautiful embroidery as well as a variety of food crops.
The Lawa people migrated to Thailand from Cambodia about 800 years ago. Because they have been there so long, their villages now closely resemble Thai villages, and the people speak Thai as their first language. The women often tie their hair in a turban and wear distinctive beads. It is not unusual for the women to smoke a wooden pipe.